6. Desperado (1995)
Three years after El Mariachi came its first of two sequels, Desperado, with Robert Rodriguez back at the helm. The final chapter of the El Mariachi trilogy would come in 2003, Once Upon A Time In Mexico.
Desperado was the first lead role for Antonio Banderas who was introduced to American audiences a few years earlier in films like The Mambo Kings, Philadelphia, and Interview With A Vampire. Throughout the 80s, he started his career in multiple Spanish films with several directors like the legendary Pedro Almodovar. Here he displays the gravitas of a movie star in every scene. Playing opposite Banderas is the great Salma Hayek in one of her earliest film roles. Both would go on to have extraordinary careers. This would mark the first appearance of the prolific Danny Trejo in one of Rodriguez’s films who would become one of his regular actors.
The film upped its game from El Mariachi with its stylistic love scene, over the top action sequences and even the multi-talented cast. The versatile Cheech Marin plays a bar owner, the up-and-coming Steve Buscemi plays a drifter, and even Quentin Tarantino makes a hilarious cameo. Rodriguez cemented his cinematic legacy with this film and even directed three other projects that came out around the same time: Roadracers, Four Rooms and From Dusk Till Dawn. He also released the book Rebel Without A Crew illustrating his experience making El Mariachi, a must read for ambitious filmmakers.
7. City Slickers II: The Legend Of Curly’s Gold (1994)
The original City Slickers was a big comedy hit in 1991. It earned Jack Palance a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Curly. When it came time for the sequel, Jack Palance would return, but as a different character – Curly’s twin brother, Duke. Also back were main players Billy Crystal and Daniel Stern. As for Bruno Kirby, he was replaced by the very funny Jon Lovitz who plays Crystal’s brother. Kirby had strong allergies to horses which made filming the original difficult so he turned down the sequel.
The first movie was about three men finding themselves in middle age. This one is about finding something more lucrative – Gold. On this search, the heart of the film is Crystal and Lovitz trying to work out their brotherly issues. Duke’s purpose is just the gold, but he learns something too. While a different film from the first, it still delivers lots of laughs and just the right amount of pathos. At a time when sequels were inferior to their original, this one is highly entertaining.
8. Wild Bill (1995)
In the second Walter Hill directed film on this list, he goes from a famous Apache leader to a famous lawman and gunslinger – Wild Bill Hickok. Played by the best actor for the job and one of the great American actors of our time – Jeff Bridges. His career didn’t include a lot of westerns, but once the boots go on it’s clear he was born to wear them. Bridges would later play Rooster Cogburn in the Coen Brothers’ True Grit to perfection. He has the knack which can only be said of few actors when it comes to westerns.
Accompanied by an impressive cast that includes John Hurt, Ellen Barkin, Diane Lane, Keith Carradine and Bruce Dern, the film provides. One of Hill’s regular players, James Remar, makes an appearance as well. He was in two of Hill’s most notable films, The Warriors and 48 Hours.
Contributing to an aesthetic style that gives the western a new look, Hill joins other directors like Sam Raimi with The Quick And The Dead to reinvent the genre. A blend of black and white sequences with an authentic wild west appearance makes it stand apart from any western of decades past.
9. Last Man Standing (1996)
Walter Hill has an impressive three films on this list, but his third is the most unique. Last Man Standing is a remake of the 1961 samurai film, Yojimbo, directed by the cinematic mastermind Akira Kurasawa. However, this version features mobsters instead of samurai. It stars Bruce Willis as a wanderer who stumbles into a violent situation he should have ignored. But Willis doesn’t mind a little trouble. One of the mobsters is the eccentric but brilliant Christopher Walken. Today he’s known for his offbeat personality, but it’s easy to forget how threatening he can be.
Appearing from Hill’s previous film, Wild Bill, is the incomparable Bruce Dern. He fits in a western like a glove. So much so that Quentin Tarantino cast him in both of his westerns – Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. It’s also important to note that lesser-known character actor David Patrick Kelly plays a mob boss. He’s one of the great actors whose face is known before their name. His very first role was in Hill’s The Warriors. He’s worked with cinematic auteurs Spike Lee and David Lynch several times and brings so much to every film. Walter Hill would stop doing westerns for a long time, but eventually would return in 2022 with Dead For A Dollar. While entertaining, it lacked the style he possessed for the westerns on this list.
10. Posse (1993)
20 years after Sidney Poitier’s Buck And The Preacher comes another film with a predominantly black cast. Right off his directorial debut New Jack City, Director Mario Van Peeples presents a very different film. Instead of the crack epidemic in New York City, here a crew of betrayed US Army Soldiers follow their leader Jesse Lee to avoid being imprisoned or killed. They come to a town of black settlers and defend them from the KKK. The leader Jesse Lee is portrayed by its director, Mario Van Peeples.
The cast of characters is an unusual collection of artists, but they get the job done. The graceful Blair Underwood brings a flair that’s appreciated in any film. Foxy Brown herself, Pam Grier, brings her style to the story. Even the hilarious Nipsey Russell can be seen and the late great Tiny Lister appears as well. Last but certainly not least, Reginald VelJohnson rounds out the cast.
From the music world, Tone Loc, Big Daddy Kane, Aaron Neville and Isaac Hayes show up. Through the 90s, it was common for a lot of rap artists to appear in movies. In fact, Director John Singleton often cast rappers in his earlier films who gave great performances: Ice Cube started his acting career with a strong performance in Boyz N The Hood, Tupac Shakur starred in Poetic Justice With Janet Jackson and Ice Cube returned to co-star with Busta Rhymes in Higher Learning. In addition to its distinctive cast, Posse’s stylistic approach stands out from the other westerns of this decade which makes it worth seeing.